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August 1993


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"Brian H. Sealy" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 17 Aug 1993 12:24:58 EDT
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Hi.  Back in July I asked for discussion of "self-conscious punk" films.
As Mike Breiner recognized, my reading of QUADROPHENIA, which I took as
my starting point, is heavily influenced by Hebdige.  I take Hebdige as
an authority; as I remember his analysis, the Mods were forerunners of
punk, i.e., there is no "mods/rockers=punks equation."  If Mike Breiner
is still reading SCREEN-L, perhaps he could elaborate upon why the mods-
lead-into-punks continuum is problematic.
  John Izod asks why EDUCATING RITA can be described as a film "in which
Hollywood coopts punk," wince it's an English film, and he wistfully
concludes that "we old colonizers are getting used to our new lives as
the colonised."  I don't remember the production history for EDUCATING
RITA, but it is based on an English play featuring English characters in
an English setting.  I nonetheless take the liberty of referring to it as
a Hollywood film because it follows the pattern of Hollywood-style
filmmaking and expresses a Hollywood-identified ideology.  (This argument
for lumping together as Hollywood films many that weren't actually
produced by (the geographically specific) Hollywood appears in some
authoritative text or another and has been made, unchallenged, at
various conferences--i.e., it seems like a truism to me by now, although
I wish I could cite the reference.)  Particularly, EDUCATING RITA
expresses "the American dream" (itself arguably not--no longer--the
exclusive property of the States), in which the exceptional individual
overcomes obstacles to achieve social and/or financial/professional
  I see a continuum of sorts here because QUADROPHENIA, in which the
punk insignia function integrally both to tell the story and as a part
of the story, doesn't analyze solely in terms of the individual, but
instead considers aspects of social structure as determining factors.
In contrast, the punk insignia of EDUCATING RITA could be replaced by
any other marker that serves to differentiate Rita at the film's
beginning from the standard that she encounters on campus and that
she will meet by film's end.  In both films, clothes, work, living
situations, etc., serve to distinguish characters, but there is a
difference--the degree of specificity, the extent to which that
specificity is integral to the story.
  I asked for suggestions for film titles that might carry the continuum
further in the direction of self-consciousness because I'm interested
in the question of audience address.  For that reason I especially
like Jonathan LeBreton's suggestion of DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN,
because the subcultural signifiers clearly distinguish characters from
each other while simultaneously placing them in class or subcultural
terms relative to each other--and they do so without requiring much
preliminary acquaintance with the subculture in question.  (I don't
think the punk and music connection is sufficient to establish the
subcultural differences I see evoked by either QUADROPHENIA or EDUCATING
  Merlin D. Mann sic (!?) suggests that punk "images have been nothing
*but* co-opted into standard Hollywood fare."  I'm not sure I agree,
but then Mr. Mann provides a hedge: "depending on how you define punk."
Again, I accept Hebdige's analysis as authoritative: Subcultural signifiers
identifying and distinguishing punks or mods or rockers have meaning
apart from their presence as signifiers.  Punk seems to rely on the visual;
punk seems to speak through the visual.  So it seems "natural" that
Hollywood (i.e., commercial film production) would appropriate punk,
as a novel visual language that can be used to express the old messages.
  Anyway, my thanks to you all for your suggestions and comments.
Surprisingly, my very hip local video stores does not carry Spheeris'
DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, but I finally stopped procrastinating and
have now seen SUBURBIA and THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (these two films could
prompt another line of discussion--why do women filmmakers explore the
world of male violence, is their exploration different from male-produced
films on violence, etc.?).
  Finally, my congratulations to Chris Golya, whose correction of the
misidentified Harley-Davidson in THE WILD ONE provided the old colonizers'
"Triumph" over the colonised.
Harriet Margolis
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